A few days back, some out of state birders found Florida's first documented Violet-green swallow on the Coastal Prairie Trail in Everglades National Park. Given that it is January and the bird is at the end of the state, it is likely that the bird will be here all winter. The bad news, for us who want it for their Florida lists, is that there is a lot of habitat for swallows and we humans have a hard time traversing said habitat.
I decided to take a shot at the bird last Monday after a few people were successful in refinding the bird. Violet-green swallow is a good excuse to go see one of my favorite places and hopefully see some other birders in the process.
Not one to miss an opportunity to do some opportunistic county listing, I hit the SW 173rd street Canoe Launch on Biscayne Bay and added Horned grebe and Black scoter to my Dade list. Also, I dipped ,again, on House finch at Bill Sadowski Park, which was closed today, so I had to look from the road. That little hiccup in taming apparently caused me to miss the party, because everyone left right before I got there. I think I saw Wes and Dotty leave, and there are a couple other folks coming out of the trail when I headed out. I gathered that everyone had seen the bird and split. Apparently not, as I heard they all gave up with without THE bird.
I got to the appointed spot and took up my post. Far in the west end of the prairie I spied some Tree-like swallows, cousins of the Violet-green swallows. I thought about staying and waiting, but I thought, "I drove 200 miles to get here, I might as well walk another." So, I headed west on the trail and eventually caught up with the swallows, and what do you know, there was THE swallow. I noted the shorter tail, nearly square-looking in fact. I caught several horizontal views a the bird worked right in front of me. The white face, extending up behind the eye and white wrapping up the edge of the base of the tail were clear. The emerald green back was on display in flashes a couple of times, but I never got great views of that. I saw the birds in Colorado a few years ago, but this was a first for Florida for me.
After a few minutes of alone time with my quarry, I decided to walk more of the trail and check out this unique seldom flooded salt marsh habitat. I needed Nelson's sparrow for Monroe, and eventually I got good close looks at one. The guys who found the swallow in the first place found many Nelson's and Saltmarsh sparrows as well as hearing about a dozen Black rails. In the afternoon, I did not find nearly so much.
Mission accomplished, I headed on to try more county birds. I checked Eco Pond which has never been the same since the hurricanes of 2004. The pond is the only source of fresh water in the area and thus attracts a different suite of birds and animals. At least it used to. There were a couple coots and grebes and a single Northern shoveler. I have made the run through the Flamingo Marina area many times in the past in hopes of adding Bronzed cowbird on my Monroe list without success. Add one more unsuccessful run. I noted a clump of cattails near Bear Lake Road, a sign of fresh water and maybe habitat for American bittern which I also lack in Monroe. Mental note taken. Mrazek Pond, or as I like to call it, "Mr. Azek Pond", is a great spot for ducks in Monroe, especially those with a preference for fresh water. Teal of both the common species often occur here, and I hoped to get a Gadwall for Monroe. There were lots of teal, mostly Green-winged, but no Gadwall.
I booked a room in Florida City before I headed out, so I was in no hurry to get back home (I could not get a refund) so I decided to bird my way out of the park. West Lake (in Dade County) held some locally rare birds this winter (Greater scaup and Redhead.) I hoped maybe their cousin the Canvasback might make an appearance this day. It was not to be, but there were still two Redhead and one Greater scaup. I was running out of daylight, and I wanted to get to Research Road to look for American woodcock. American woodcock is not known to breed regularly in south Florida, or do they? Males are often heard displaying throughout central and south Florida, including the pine lands along Research Road in Everglades National Park in the winter months. Are they breeding? It's hard to tell. They have been documented nesting, at least once, at Corkscrew Swamp in Collier County. At any rate, I have tried many times to add this species to my Dade list. This night looked to be my best shot. It was later in winter, many of my attempts before were in December, I was going to be there around dusk, they are usually more active at dusk than dawn. The birds are usually found in the more recently burned areas of the pine lands. There is a Boy Scout camp on the south side of the road and the area east of there has been burned in the last year, so this is where I staked my hopes. I had help this time as ______ from California was also looking. He heard one first, and summoned me to where he was. After a few minutes, we hear the "peent" call and eventually the twittering flight display.
After this successful search, I headed to the motel for the night and made plans to come back the next day and try to repeat my success with friends this time.
I got down to Flamingo to try for Eastern whip-poor-will and American bittern (see mental note.) After stopping and listening for whip at Rowdy Bend Trail and getting only Barred owl, I got Whip at Bear Lake Road and waited for a bittern to come out of the marsh. As dawn chorus started, I saw a night-heron coming from the south. Or was it? I put the binocs up and I had American bittern on my Monroe list.
I could see the light on at the ranger station at the camp (you have to go through the campground to get to the trail) so I headed over. They had closed the B Loop, so we had to walk a bit further to the tail. Angel and Mariel were delayed in arriving, but Paul Sykes was on the way. I headed out to the appointed spot to look again and saw no swallows at all this time. I had already seen the swallow and had both of the "Sharp-tailed" sparrows for the county list, so I did not see the need to continue to walk the trail. I awaited the arrival of others and kept my vigil. 31 minutes later, I decided I needed to move on toward home, and Paul arrived. We exchanged pleasantries and I headed back to the truck. Once back at the truck, Paul called to say he heard a Black rail. I heard the same or another bird before. Not a county bird, but pretty cool to hear.
I made another quick check of Mr. Azek Pond with about the same results as before, but much worse lighting in the morning.
I was ready to get home, but I just had to take a few more opportunities to list. I took another shot at Barnes for House finch, NO, and another shot at the canoe launch, nothing (good thing I went the day before!) before heading up to Palm Beach Gardens to look for a recently photographed Redhead in Palm Beach County. There has been a Nashville warbler at A.D. Barnes Park for some time. Barnes was right along the way. Even though I'd be there later in the week as part of the Everglades Birding Festival, I decided to check it out. It took awhile, but I eventually caught up with the bird. TICK!
The Redhead in Palm Beach Gardens was in a canal between Lowe's and Costco. Google Earth showed me that there were may alternate hiding places for the Redhead in the form of ponds on either side of the canal. I decided to park at the Costco and try my luck from the Norhthlake Blvd bridge. I quickly spotted nothing much at all to the south. to the north there was about 30 Ring-necked ducks. The Redhead was photographed with Ring-necked ducks! So, I scanned and scanned and scanned while the birds swam and dove and preened and were all Ring-necked ducks. Darn it. A few other Ring-necked ducks flew by and I scrutinized every one for Redheads, but none were to be had. I even hiked south along the canal to check a couple of ponds south of Lowe's, but no Redhead to be seen. I suspect it is still in the area and I will take a few more shots. Today was not the day.
Very enjoyable couple of days. Now, I'm off to the Everglades Birding Festival for a few days.